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  • Selous Game Reserve
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    Selous Game Reserve
    Far from the madding crowd and at the three times the size of the Kruger National Park and double the size of the Senegeti National Park, Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania maintains its title as Africa’s largest reserve. It is a fitting tribute then that it is also one of Tanzania’s three World Heritage Sites. The Game Reserve reached its present size and shape in the 1940′s, when the colonial government moved the remaining tribes out of the area to combat a sleeping sickness epidemic. It was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982.

    Selous is named in honour of the Englishman Frederick Courtney Selous. During 1871 Selous lived and hunted in the area for approximately four decades and during that time he gained a reputation as the most accomplished hunter of his age. He was also known for writing, most notably he was the author of “A Hunter’s Wanderings in Africa”. Selous assisted Cecil John Rhodes in his campaign to annes present-day Zimbabwe to the British Empire and he also achieved brief notoriety in 1899 for speaking out against England’s war on the Boer Republics of South Africa.

    As Captain of the Royal Fusiliers at the age of 60 and with detailed knowledge of the African bush, Selous led the chase after the German guerilla army that presided in Southern Tanzania. On New Year’s Day in 1917, Selous was shot dead by a sniper close to the banks of the Beho Beho River where he remains buried today, near Beho Neho Safari Camp. Five Years after his death, the British colonists incorporated a number of existing game reserves south of the river to extend the plains of the aptly named, Selous.

    Fauna and Flora:

    An area of 45,000km2 of unspoiled African wilderness, the Selous game reserve boasts a variety of biomes – grassy plains, open woodland, mountains and forests – all classified by their climate and dominant vegetation type, and representing large communities of plants and animals in distinct regions.

    The reserve is split into two different regions by Tanzania’s largest river, the Rufiji. The northern Selous covers only around 5% of the reserves total area. No hunting is allowed here; this area is dedicated exclusively to photographic safari’s and accommodation in exclusive camps and lodges. Hunting blocks of approximately 1,000km2 each make up the Souther section of the Selous reserve.

    Large numbers of sought after game, predators, crocodiles and hippos are resident within this massive reserve. Buffalo numbers are estimated at 120,000 – 150,000. with lion numbers estimated to be around 4000 individuals. Historically, Selous was also home to Tanzania’s largest elephant population, but sadly, due to increased poaching incidents over the years, the number of elephants have reduced dramatically.

    The birdlife here is prolific with more than 440 species of birds being recorded in the Selous. Pink-backed pelicans, African Skimmers and giant Kingfishers, carmine and white fronted bee-eater colonies just to name a few. In the Borassus Palms, pairs of Fish Eagle, Palm Nut Vulture, Ibises and Palm Swifts nest. A myriad of water birds are discovered in their thousand’s – various small waders, egrets and herons as well as the famous Pel’s Fishing Owl.

    Access to the Selous Game Reserve:

    Selous is a six to seven hour drive towards the Southern part of Tanzania, south of Dar es Salaam and is served by light aircraft from Dar es Salaam and Ruaha daily, both of these flights being under an hour in duration. Park fees and Conservation fees are normally included in the price of one’s safari and are estimated at around USD75 per person per day.

    One may chose to take a road trip from Dar es Salaam that involves taking a normal circuit route which would include a trip through the Mikumi National Park and entering the Matambwe Gate. It is such an exhilarating experience, even more so in the mornings, to take the road from Morogoro as it gives visitors the chance to enjoy the drive through the Morogoro town and the opportunity to view the town with the “Ulugulu Mountains” as the scenic backdrop. As one heads out of Morogoro town, you will have the chance to witness how the rural peopl live and work within the villages. Experience a traditional market day in rural Tanzania. Another option is to take the access road from Dar es Salaam past the Tanzanian countryside filled with scenes of tall palms and lush grassland in the hilly areas and enter into Selous that way.

    Activities:

    Tanzania offers numerous options for specialist safaris and activites, whether you wish to drive, walk, ride, fish, fly camp, ride in a hot-air balloon, dive, kite surf or go trekking after chimpanzees.

    Accomodation in the Selous:

    For nature enthusiast seeking an intimate environment and warm hospitality, the Selous offers a wide variety of accommodation types ranging from enchanting and intimate safari camps to tented camps and luxury lodges.

    Seasons in the Selous:

    Wildlife viewing in the Selous Game Reserve is best from late June to October. It is dry season and wildlife is easier to spot since animals gather at water resources and vegetation is thinner. Many lodges close from March through May.

    Quick facts:
    Best time to go: June to October
    High Season: June to Cotober (The tourists area around the Rufuji River gets quite crowded)
    Low Season: March, April and May (Many lodges are closed)
    Best Weather: June to October (Little to no rainfall)
    Worst Weather: March and April (Peak of wet Season)

    From June to October:

    Spotting animals is easier, as they congregate around waterholes and rivers and there is less vegetation. It rains very little and most days are sunny. There is less risk of contracting malaria, since there are not as many mosquitos. Humidity is lowered and the heat isn’t overpowering.

    October to May:

    Scenery is beautiful and green. Crowds are less in the low Season months (March, April, May). This period is peak bird watching time, since migratory birds are present. Roads however, become muddy and are hard to travel on.

    Malaria:

    Be aware that malaria is a health concern in Tanzania. You should protect yourself by wearing clothing with long sleeves in the dawn and evening hours. Also, wear a mosquito deterrent that contains at least 20% DEET and take anti-malaria medicine. Several vaccination are recommended as well. Please check with your local GP for precautions against Malaria.
  • Red - Billed Queleas - Kruger National Park
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    Red - Billed Queleas - Kruger National Park
    Orpen, Tamboti tented camp, Talamati and the Maroela Caravan Park in the Kruger Park are compelling birding spots. The Red – billed quelea, in addition to many other species of birds often occur in this area, one of the reasons being that the nearby Timbavati River watercourse is a dependable food source. During midday these birds will rest in the shade and drink on average at least twice a day. Red – billed queleas nest mostly in Acacia trees which are prolific in this mixed thorn and Marula woodland habitat.

    Talamati is a small bushveld camp in the mixed woodlands of the N’waswitsontso .The camp is on the edge of the N’waswitsontso wetlands, which ensures there is usually good all-year-round birding.

    Considered an invasive species and also known as the red-billed weaver or red-billed dioch, the red-billed quelea is the world’s most abundant wild bird species, with an estimated adult breeding population of 1.5 billion pairs. Some estimates of the overall population have been as large as 10 billion. The entire population is found in sub-Saharan Africa and is generally absent from deeply forested regions and the southern reaches of South Africa.

    Unsurprisingly, there are more Red-billed Queleas in Kruger than any other species, with an estimated 33.5 million birds moving seasonally in and around the Park. They account for over 50% of the avian biomass in Kruger, moving in flocks of up to a million birds that nest en masse in acacia trees with between 50 and 3 000 nests per tree.
    Feeding habits

    Watching Red-billed queleas feed is like watching the Mexican Wave at a football crowd. The birds descend in their thousands onto the ground, with the flock taking on a roller feeding movement in which the birds at the back continually hop over the ones in front to get to the food. The Red-billed quelea is mostly a seed-eater but does eat insects, including butterflies, ants, beetles and termites. After the chicks hatch, they are nourished for some days with caterpillars and protein-rich insects. After this time parents change to feeding the nestlings mainly seeds. The young birds fledge and become independent enough to leave their parents after approximately two weeks in the nest.
    Red – Billed queleas as a food source

    Quelea are the avian equivalent of the impala – everything feeds on them. Nesting colonies are a favourite target not only for raptors but a wide variety of birds such as the Marabou Stork, Cattle Egret, Green-backed Heron and most of the hornbills. Whole colonies of Red-billed queleas can be devastated by predator attacks on adults, nestlings and eggs. Research at four Red-billed quelea colonies in the Park showed predation rates of 13%, 14%, 35% and 60%, according to Roberts VII. Additionally, snakes, lizards and several types of mammals are regular predators and some human populations also eat red-billed queleas. During their breeding season the Hadza of Northern Tanzania quelea eat quelea chicks by the thousands.
    Breeding habits

    During the breeding stage, the adult male is distinguished by his more colourful plumage and red bill. Breeding plumage in male queleas is unusually variable: comprising a facial mask which ranges from black to white in colour, and breast and crown plumage which varies from yellowish to bright red. For the rest of the year both males and fledged non-breeding birds have plumage that resembles that of the adult female, which is overall a cryptic beige and cream coloration. The female’s bill is yellow during breeding, and red during the non-breeding season.

    Red- billed queleas are monogamous at each breeding attempt, but also itinerant breeding in which individuals may nest at up to three different locations within a season, thus likely that serial polygamy occurs. Their breeding season is from December to April in South Africa.

    Nest sites are placed approximately 2m above ground level and mostly in Acacia thorn trees.

    They typically lay 3-5 eggs that are pale green or blueish in colour. Chicks hatch after 10-12 days and are fed by both the male and female adults. The chicks are fed by regurgitation – even when feeding on insects.
  • Conservation in Coastal East Africa
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    Conservation in Coastal East Africa
    In recent months all eyes have been focusing (and rightfully so) in the direction of Rhino poaching and the effects thereof in Africa. Now a subject close to millions of hearts around the world, our fight to protect this magnificent species is ongoing –every birth of baby rhino a celebration and every loss brings with it a dark blanket of grief.

    As conservationists, there are many facets of the natural world that have become our passion our war, our life-long searches for answers that spill over into the next generation after us and in doing so we continue to hope for relief from the devastation and havoc that man has wreaked on planet Earth.

    At Hartley’s Safari’s we have a passion for Africa and East Africa is high on our priority list. Our guests are treated to myriads of natural landscapes and wild scenery as well as several of the most majestic and fascinating animals on earth. This makes East Africa a mecca for nature lovers. Many of the visitors coming to the region do so for the opportunity to enjoy a safari and to experience up close and personal interactions with those animals that have us infinitely fascinated –lions, leopards, wild dogs, rhino, elephant , to name but a few.

    Tanzania, Mozambique and Kenya boast a rich biodiversity of ecosystems and natural resources which is quite strange considering the level of poverty in these destinations. Unfortunately this same poverty has resulted in illegal and unsustainable trade with other countries and valuable natural resources are being lost to other countries-Europe, Asia and China. This illegal trade has proven extremely difficult to control due to insufficient resources. In turn, the poor communities of these coastal destinations suffer the most when these resources are destroyed. Global climate change in these countries is indicated by periods of persistent drought, unpredictable rainfall and drastic weather conditions.

    For those passionate about fishing, you will be able to empathise with the severe threat of unsustainable fishing practices in the aforementioned countries. The interest of overfishing, is to eradicate hunger issues in developing countries all over the world, as well as to create a vast improvement of job opportunities, however due to our unsustainable fishing practices, it is just a matter of time before our oceans are completely depleted of marine species, and the destruction of the aquatic ecosystem. This issue will result in irreparable socio-economic and environmental circumstances that will be of severe consequence if we do not alter our local and international commercial fishing operations.

    According to foreign media reports, Tanzania’s greatest threat at the moment, is the proposed road bisecting Serengeti National Park, which scientists, conservationists, the UN, and foreign governments alike have condemned. Home to the world’s largest migration of land animals—two million wildebeest, antelope, and zebra migrate annually across this vast grassland—many view the Serengeti plains as one of the most astounding wildlife areas on Earth, and it is certainly among the most famous. Other concerns include the fast-tracking of soda ash mining in the world’s most important breeding ground for lesser flamingos, and the recent announcement to nullify an application for UNESCO World Heritage Status for a portion of Tanzania’s Eastern Arc Mountains, a threatened tropical forest area rich in species found no-where else. According to President Jakaya Kikwete, Tanzania is simply trying to provide for its poorest citizens (such as communities near the Serengeti and the Eastern Arc Mountains) while pursuing western-style industrial development.

    Obviously, Kikwete’s job is not straightforward. High expectations have to be balanced with on-the-ground realities, rising commodity prices and energy shortages. Infrastructure is left badly wanting within impoverished communities. Tanzania, like many East African nations, has faced terrible droughts in the past few years that have had devastating effects on its agriculture sector. The AIDS crisis is ongoing and Tanzania struggles to provide education to all its citizens. Kikwete is facing a rash of poaching and serious management issues within conservation areas.

    WWF is calling for a more integrated policy approach to ensure that land and water intensive investments are more sustainable and benefit the host country. The good news is that like WWF, there are many organisations that are working towards solutions by providing funding to organizations like Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to assist in the anti-poaching operations, by working directly with local communities to form areas of protection for natural resources and conservancies where wildlife is closely monitored and protected.

    Projects such as building rainwater tanks whereby the communities can have access to rainwater, as opposed to using methods of deforestation in order to try and reach water within the forested areas.

    In the Masai -Mara, eight wildlife conservancies have been formed, which offer land lease payments of US$25-40 per hectare (ha) per year to landowners (Bedelian, 2012). These schemes, financed by ecotourism operators, aim to keep land open for wildlife and provide landowners with a regular income stream. They now cover over 90,000 ha, securing vital migratory corridors and dispersal areas for wildebeest from both the Serengeti and the Loita Plains.

    By taking into account wildlife and their migratory routes, people, livestock, landscapes and natural resources, a more comprehensive conservation effort can be made. Extensive communication and discussions with communities and landowners, governments, and conservation organisations is essential before any action can be taken.

    Greenpeace is working on solutions with regards to overfishing that would entail a network of well enforced marine reserves across the region and sustainable fishing and fish processing operations managed and financed by Africans, providing livelihoods, food security and enabling poverty alleviation in the region. Africa’s waters need to be managed by well -funded, functioning regional oceans management organisations.

    In a nutshell,although our business at Hartley’s is Safaris,conservation of our destinations is close to our hearts. Knowledge is power ,and with this in mind, we share with you a brief look into the conservation concerns and proposed solutions of these jewels of our continent that make up our majestic Coastal East Africa!
  • Roça Belo Monte Hotel
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    Roça Belo Monte Hotel
    The Roça Belo Monte Hotel is a luxurious 15 room boutique hotel located off the coast of West Central Africa. Forming part of the twin island state of São Tome and Principe, this remote and unique island is blessed with breathtakingly beautiful surroundings that will impress even the most discerning traveller. Surrounded by dense mountain forest that forms part of the Obo National Park and standing guard over five of its own beaches, The Roça Belo Monte Hotel has become a preferred gateway to this unique island destination.

    Due to island’s privileged location, along the Greenwich meridian and on the Equator, diving conditions are ideal with year round temperate waters and excellent visibility. With a multitude of dive sites that range in difficulty, this archipelago is ideal for both beginner and advanced divers. Common marine life includes, red soldiers, barracuda, turtles, snapper, eels and the occasional nurse shark.
  • McDonald’s of the Bush
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    McDonald’s of the Bush
    While the Oxford dictionary describes the impala as ‘a graceful antelope often seen in large herds in open woodland in southern and eastern Africa’, a far better description I heard was from an old Zulu guide in the Hluhluwe uMfolozi Game Reserve in South Africa when he muttered drily: “The McDonalds of the bush”.

    Looking at the trademark ‘M’ that spreads itself in black along the tail and rump of the impala, I have to admit that he does have a very fair point, particularly as this is a firm favourite of all predators – from lions, leopards, wild dogs, hyenas; I have even witnessed a particularly large python make a meal out of one over an entire evening. To further add to the fast food metaphor, the impala is incredibly agile and moves in impressive leaps that can reach heights of 3 metres and cover distances of up to 10 metres when trying to escape from becoming the next Happy Meal.

    Following a gestation period of 194-200 days, single lambs are born during early summer – making December a peak time to witness the magical birthing that usually takes place around midday. Impala ewes who are about to give birth will move away from the herd and find a secluded shady spot where they will take advantage of the predators resting during the heat of the day to become vulnerable for this precious moment.

    Almost straight after birth, the mother will encourage her lamb to stand up on its shaky legs and start moving around. Cleaning the lamb and eating the remains of the afterbirth is imperative for removing the scent which might attract predators as they wake from their afternoon siesta. The lamb will still be a bit wobbly for the next few days, and so the mother will remain with it in a protected thicket until it is strong enough to keep up with the rest of the herd.

    The newly born antelope are very naive and for the first few weeks of their lives they make very easy prey. Therefore roughly 90% of all impala lambs are born within the same 3-5 week period due to the births being synchronised as nature’s way of reducing the mortality rate of the young. When returning to the herd, the lambs will come together to form a temporary nursing group which is tended to by a few adult females. Hiding in the long grass of summer, the lamps are well camouflaged from predators. A mother will return to feed her baby but won’t hang around for too long in case this attracts unwanted attention.

    This bushveld miracle is truly wonderful to experience firsthand, and perfectly illustrates The Great Circle of Life.
  • How to Choose the Perfect Game Lodge for you
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    How to Choose the Perfect Game Lodge for you
    At Rhino Walking Safaris and Rhino Post Safari Lodge in the Kruger Park, we frequently hear, “there are so many stunning lodges on the Internet, how are is a person supposed to choose!”

    It’s true, South Africa boasts an array of incredible lodges in stunning settings; but think of choosing a lodge in the same way as choosing a wife/husband. There’s more to life than looks – though they sure do help for that first spark of attraction! There’s personality (ambience), financial status (price), reputation (well… reputation), and, most important of all compatibility. Here’s a breakdown of how to pick the right lodge for you:

    Looks: Certain styles will naturally resonate with you, and the Internet is a visual medium. Are you into African prints, Biggie Best, Animal Skins, opulence or simplicity? Beware of photographs depicting arrangements of fresh flowers, few if any lodges use fresh flowers outside of advertising shots. Also, if it’s the rose petals and in the bath and on the floor that draw you, then be sure when booking to ask for these, they are often done either only for publicity shots, or for honeymooners.

    Personality: Without actually experiencing a lodge, how do you assess the ambience? Look at the guest reviews on the lodge’s own website. What is it that people praise most about this lodge? The lodge owners/managers are choosing which reviews to post, so you will get an idea of what is important to them. Is it food, friendliness, wine selection, game viewing, pampering, spa-therapies, technology, luxury?

    Everyone is different. For me the perfect match is firstly, staff friendliness, then setting, then food and game viewing are about equal (I’m as much a foodie as I am keen on the bush and conservation); the add on’s, like lectures on botany, massages, butler’s, wi-fi and private plunge pools etc. are nice to have, but not essential to my bush experience . I also feel a bit unsettled in an atmosphere that is too stiff or formal. What are your three most important criteria and in what order?

    Of course there are two parts to a safari – the lodge and the game viewing. With regard to game viewing, you need to consider the following: are you focussed on seeing the big five and not that concerned about other smaller things; or are you wanting a bush experience with time to absorb everything, but it would be nice to see the bigger animals too? Look at how much emphasis the lodge website puts on ‘big five’, if they’re any good, their guides should be aware of the marketing and working in accordance with it. Also, are you a passionate conservationist? If you are, then consider the conservation policies of the lodge, most will advertise these on their website if they are important to them. Off-road driving is the ultimate game drive for some, and extremely offensive to others. Ask the lodge or your agent, if this is important to you, because it could make or break your safari.

    Financial Status: Is value for money important, or do you want the best that money can buy? There are some fabulous lodges for the uber-wealthy, but there are also some that offer almost as much for a fraction of the price. Remember that lodges in remote areas are expensive to run, much of the budget goes to providing basic services which are available for next to nothing in town, so you cannot compare the price and level of luxury between a city hotel and a game lodge.

    You can do a self-catering safari fairly cheaply, but for a fully catered safari, if the price is too low you run the risk of meals, quality of vehicles, staff and room amenities being skimped on. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t take advantage of some of the great specials that even the best quality lodges run during the traditionally quiet months, but look at the average (rack) rate of a lodge for comparison to get a general idea of standards. Do a little extra homework if a rack rate is less than R1 500 per person sharing per night.

    For those who don’t have an endless budget, the best value for money combined with luxury is to be found in the range from R3 500 to R6 000 per person per night. If drinks are not included (and at anything over R6000 they should be), you should feel comfortable to drop the lodge an email and ask them to forward you a copy of their wine list/ laundry prices or even massage menu.

    Reputation: There are many independent sites such as TripAdvisor.com, where travellers give candid reviews. What are people saying, and did the lodge care enough to respond to negative reviews – did they do so politely? Look at the number of Excellent reviews, Good reviews and Poor reviews. Don’t be fooled by the number of reviews, but rather look at the ratio it should be well stacked in favour of ‘excellent’– a lodge may only have a few reviews because it is new.

    Compatibility: This is a combination of the items already discussed, but you also need to consider why you are going on safari, and is this lodge going to give you what you want? Are you wanting to impress clients? Then consider famous names, and places frequented by the stars, look at rates of R10 000 per person sharing and upwards. Do you want an authentic bush experience? Then consider a lodge that’s unfenced, and can provide the option of walking safaris as well – or even a camp out night. Do you want a pampered holiday? Consider a lodge with a butler and a spa. Do you want to see the big 5 in the shortest time possible – perhaps you only have one night available for safari? Consider a bigger lodge in a private reserve where guides can call sightings in to each other to get you quickly from one sighting to another.

    Please consider marrying your needs with good conservation principles and ethics. If you can, choose a lodge that operates in an environmentally responsible manner. There are a few gems that manage outstanding environmental ethics, great game viewing, style and comfort as well as a reasonable price range.
  • The Great Wildebeest Migration
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    The Great Wildebeest Migration
    The grounds are trembling with the vibrations of thundering hooves as the sound of grunting fills the air. The herds are gathering and the wildebeest are on the move, preparing for the biggest migration known to the animal kingdom: The Great Wildebeest Migration.

    Together, Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park and Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve host one of the biggest wildlife spectacles on earth, where over 1.5 million wildebeest, joined by 200,000 zebra migrate in an endless circle across the open plains in search of food and water. Tirelessly, they follow the same route each year covering a miraculous 2,900km! However this route is not quite as predictable as the pretty migration maps will have you believe; local weather patterns are a huge driving force than can result in the herds suddenly surging forward, or rapidly back tracking. It is simply a delightful chaos!

    September generally sees the herds spread out across the northern Serengeti, where the broad and fast Mara River poses the most daunting obstacle. The crossing is the greatest episode of the entire migration. As herds by the hundreds start congregating along the river’s edge, the dust clouds begin rising and so too does the tension as they slowly begin nervously nudging one another closer to the water’s edge, waiting for the first brave machos to take the initial leap. After the first brave beast hurdles itself into the river, the rest follow with the hopes of cheating death. The wildebeest, nicknamed the ‘clowns of the savannah’ leap into the river with little calculation or method, stampeding over one another as they frantically try to make it to the opposite side of the river in one piece.

    Crossing the river is a “do-or-die” survival game where participants risk not only being swept away by the raging currents of the Mara River but also find themselves having to dodge the jaws of hungry Nile crocodiles as well as out run predators who hide in the thickets on the opposite side of the river, waiting for easy pickings on the injured and exhausted survivors. It is a dramatic, dust filled spectacle injected with panic, confusion and terror!

    Sometimes you can wait as long as two hours in anticipation for the crossing to begin, and then, as if their nerves get the better of them, the herd will decide not to cross and turn around. There are no guarantees when it comes to the crossing, but when it happens it is a spectacular event and well worth the wait!

    If the Great Wildebeest Migration wasn’t enough to get you excited about the Maasai Mara, consider that it also is renowned for having one of the largest densities of lions in the world. As the herds begin to grow in numbers they attract a large amount of attention from all predators, who have waited for the annual coming of the migration with eager anticipation, ready to welcome the fattening ungulates as early Christmas gifts. Witnessing a kill is no longer an idle dream for wildlife enthusiasts; in the Maasai Mara it’s not uncommon to see a kill every day!

    Nowhere in the world is there a movement of animals as immense as the Great Wildebeest Migration. Fittingly, it’s not surprising that East Africa is recognised as one of the world’s top safari destinations, fully deserving of its title as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
  • Xonghile: The Place of Beauty
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    Xonghile: The Place of Beauty
    A couple of weeks ago found me bumping along a seemingly endless dirt road in an old Mitsubishi Colt; hungry and tired after a nearly fourteen hour drive from Johannesburg. We had just entered Mozambique through the Giriyondo Border Post and were desperate to reach our destination, Xonghile, before sunset… but the rough roads of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park had other plans and our hearts sank as we saw the Ford Ranger ahead towing the trailer with all our supplies, pull over and stop… We’d lost a bolt on the trailer’s leaf spring. After an hour of crying and traipsing up and down trying to find the missing bolt, then crying some more while fiddling with all possible bolt replacements, the scuba diver in me finally laid tear-soaked eyes on an Allen key and cable ties… we were saved!!! A crude solution but a solution none the less!

    We eventually made it to camp where we unpacked the essentials under the light of the full moon (including the torches and lamps that were packed at the very bottom) and then crawled to bed, too tired to care about double checking the rooms for an African Rock Python that we knew enjoyed making himself at home between the mattresses.

    The sound of trumpeting and long, deep rumbles got us out of bed faster than any smart phone’s fancy alarm app… a herd of elephants had come to the camp’s waterhole for an early morning drink and were playing happily with the water and mud – a true African fountain that would put any found in Italy to shame. The fact that the water had to be trucked in did not seem to bother them in the least. Nor any of us for that matter, and our group included one of the main shareholders who would have to foot the bill. In fact any care in the world was completely forgotten as we watched a tiny baby learning how to use his trunk – and found it particularly effective for slapping a slightly older sibling. When said sibling tried to retaliate, mom stepped in and put an end to the scuffle.

    The days began with our elephant family herd greeting us with every glorious sunrise and then stretched into exploring the land, stopping for impromptu picnics in the middle of the bush. As we made our way back to camp, the setting sun would paint the sky into a kaleidoscope of brilliant colour. And as we reviewed our day’s sightings around the campfire, a few lone elephant bulls, a civet and a duiker would join us for sundowners. Most nights we fell asleep to a haunting cacophony of lion roaring and hyena laughing as they competed for each other’s kills; broken only occasionally by the rasp of a nearby leopard who we never saw.

    One day we decided to break the idyllic timeless routine, and accompany the farm manager on a two hour drive back into the local village of Massingir. It was a random Tuesday morning but the people were in full swing – bottles of Johnny Walker Red were being passed around jovial groups of men, music blaring out of garish Chinese stereos, youngsters racing motorbikes up and down to impress pretty girls – it was magnificent madness!! We headed over to what looked like a restaurant to try and find something to eat for breakfast. A young man was quick to come and greet us but when we asked for a menu his friendly face became one of polite puzzlement and he ran off. Another young lady, who we later found out was his sister, came over with chilled glasses, water, Savannah Dry ciders, gin and Tonic, and Dragon energy drinks and indicated that we should take a seat. We obliged, albeit rather bemused as it was only nine in the morning. In the short time that it took for her to pour the array of drinks for us, the man reappeared dressed in a crisp white collared shirt and smart waist coat – but still no menus. After trying to ask what they offered in the way of food, we were told, slowly and carefully, “eggs, milk and restricted spirits.” How delicious. What about chicken? A hesitant nod… Great – chicken it is! Mozambique is the home of Peri-peri after all!! We decided to play a game of pool while we waited for our chicken and had soon made a group of friends who chatted away in a mixture of Portuguese and Shona. A short while later we went back to our little table – now beautifully laid with colourful woven mats, and more chilled glasses and drinks. Having been warned that the nearest decent medical facility was three hours away, food poisoning was a very real concern but we sat down and waited… the next moment platters of chicken, vegetables, thick chips and rice were carried out by our smiling host and hostess – and the chef!! It was all beautifully presented. And absolutely scrumptious!!! We tucked in happily and I am delighted to report that none of us were ill… Ironically, when I asked for peri-peri – they brought me a bottle of Nandos from South Africa.

    As I was sitting there, with my breakfast of chicken washed down with a Savannah Dry, I reflected that this was Africa: the unexpected adventure that takes you past your comfort zone and then flings you even further – and there you find that mysterious little thing called life. Whether it was creeping past lion on your way to shower in the dead of night, or lying dead still when you awaken from an afternoon snooze in a hammock only to find an elephant browsing off the tree that you are strung to, or just being pleasantly surprised by the hospitality of the people who share this beautiful land. Having been born and bred in Africa, I still find new things every day that make me fall in love all over again. Richard Mullin sums it up quite well: “The only man I envy is the man who has not yet been to Africa – for he has so much to look forward to.”
  • SANParks Fight Against Poaching
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    SANParks Fight Against Poaching
    The last few months have seen South African National Parks (SANParks) welcome several contributions for the fight against poaching which we hope will level the playing field and see even more success cases both in prevention and arrests.

    South African Airlink has donated a hangar to accommodate some of the aircraft and vehicles used in anti-poaching efforts in the Kruger National Park (KNP) and surrounding areas. It already houses a helicopter, Bantam and a Cessna fixed wing and is expected to cut response time by almost an hour. Shortly after the official handover of the hangar on the 23rd July 2015, the helicopter and poaching reaction team responded to a poaching incident outside the KNP and managed to assist in the arrest of a suspect and recovery of ivory from a poached elephant.

    Peace Parks Foundation donated a collection of top-of-the-range monocular night-vision equipment to the combined value of R 3.4 million in order to further assist against wildlife crime. Night vision has become a key opto-electronic technology in modern conflicts that take place in the dark. The new equipment allows for thermal imaging and high quality depth perception, whilst offering a comfortable and ergonomic size and shape. This will help ensure a safer working environment for the rangers as well as keep them one step ahead of the poachers. Peace Parks Foundation supports various projects that aim to stop or deter illegal activities on the ground; including destabilising the supply chain through interventions as a result of intelligence operations, as well as efforts to reduce market demand for illegally traded animal products.

    Earlier this year also saw the Minister of Environmental Affairs hand over four forensic trailers to SANParks. The trailers will assist in the investigation of rhino poaching and wildlife crime in improving investigative capacity and crime scene management. For example, when urgent forensic sample results are required for bail hearings involving suspected poachers, it is vital the samples are processed to ensure that the evidence in question is not only acceptable, but delivered within a specified time frame for court purposes. Furthermore, correctly collected and handled samples meet chain of custody requirements critical for successful prosecution. This type of evidence can assist in among others, placing suspects at poaching crime scenes, identifying weapons used, and linking horns seized with rhino poached. The trailers have been equipped with, amongst others:

    Generators
    Mobile fridges in which to store genetic material
    Metal detectors
    Electronic callipers
    Scales and knife sharpeners

    In addition, funding from the UNEP-GEF Rhino Programme has also been utilised to provide advanced crime scene management training in November 2014 and further courses scheduled for this year. The provision of advanced crime scene management training is also one of the key areas highlighted in the Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros. Furthermore, these training initiatives are currently being used to develop crime scene filming material to serve as visual supplementary training material for rhino crime scene investigators.

    CEO of SANParks Fundisile Mketeni expressed his gratitude, “This is important in our anti-poaching drive as it means the luxury of time will not be on the side of the poachers. We owe it to our forefathers and future generations to preserve this natural heritage. I am inspired by this gesture and many others, that we will overcome this scourge of poaching.”
  • Gentle Giants of Cenderawasih Bay
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    Gentle Giants of Cenderawasih Bay
    In Indonesia’s Papua and West Papua regions lies Cenderawasih Bay, a diving location that is becoming increasingly famous throughout the world. Declared a marine national park in 2002, Cenderawasih Bay offers unrivalled whale shark encounters, beautiful reefs, diverse marine life and fascinating wrecks.

    Cenderawasih Bay is famous for its whale shark encounters. The fishermen use nets, filled with small fish, to attract the bigger fish for catching. However, the whale sharks have learnt how to suck the fish out of the nets, resulting in congregations of these gentle giants around the fishing platforms. As many as six or seven can gather round each platform at a time. Whale shark encounters are always special; however, they are brief and often only involve one of these magnificent creatures. Cenderawasih, on the other hand, sets itself apart as a location where you can see many whale sharks at a time, at a very close range for extended periods of times.

    Whale shark sightings are what attract most divers to this remote, idyllic location; however, an array of other diving opportunities makes Cenderawasih Bay truly special. When exploring other areas of the bay you will find beautiful coral reefs, home to a variety of endemic marine life, dolphins, sharks, dugongs and four different species of turtle. This abundance in fascinating aquatic life, along with the high percentage of endemic species, is why Cenderawasih Bay is known by some as the ‘Galapagos of the East’. Cenderawasih Bay is also home to many WWII shipwrecks and sunken planes, the most fascinating being Shinwa Maru. Lying at depths from 16 to 34 metres, the Shinwa Maru is a 120m Japanese cargo ship that was sunk in 1944 by US forces. Scattered with many fascinating artefacts and displaying its two large blast holes from its deadly demise, this sunken history is incredible for those who love wreck diving.

    A visit to Cenderawasih Bay is almost guaranteed to give you the best whale shark experience of your life and what makes this location extremely unique is that the gentle giants are present all year round.
  • The Frenzy of the Sardine Run
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    The Frenzy of the Sardine Run
    The Sardine Run has arrived and we are all very excited for this phenomenal event! Every year, from May through to July millions of sardines saturate the dark blue waters a shiny metallic silver as they migrate up the east coast of South Africa, travelling from the cooler waters of the Cape into the warmer sub-tropical waters of KwaZulu-Natal. Their sheer numbers attract animals from land, sea and sky, creating a feeding extravaganza and a frenzy of excitement amongst all who come into contact with this spectacular marine event!

    Following the shoals, above and below water is an unprecedented concentration of marine predators including birds, sharks, dolphins, whales, seals and fish, all eager to get their fair share. Schools of sharks including the bronze whaler, dusky, black tip, zambezi, hammerhead and copper can be seen in their hundreds as they survey the surroundings, waiting for the opportune moment to strike.

    Bottle nose and common dolphins also join in the feeding frenzy and employ a hunting strategy to push the shoals into tightly packed balls, known as ‘bait balls’. Working together underwater the dolphins drive the bait balls to the surface, herding them like a sheepdog would sheep, leaving the sardines trapped with nowhere run or hide. After the dolphins have done all the hard work the other predators are eager to reap the rewards. As the shoal moves closer to the surface the aerial assault on the sardines begins as hundreds of cape gannets, cormorants and gulls plummet out of the sky to gorge themselves on the shimmering ball of silver fish.

    Diving the Sardine Run is not for the faint hearted. Dodge the beaks of cape gannets and cormorants as they slice through the water catching their prey, or be bumped out of the way by a hungry shark, this is what you can look forward to if you decide to brave these action packed waters! In areas where the sardines swim close to the shore fishermen and local sardine lovers make sure to secure their share too!

    Little is known about this phenomenon and the Sardine Run is still poorly understood from biological and environmental point of view. One theory is that the sardines shoal closely together when they are threatened in an instinctually defensive behaviour, since individual sardines are more vulnerable than in large groups. It is also hypothesised that the water temperature has to drop below 21°C in order for the migration to take place and the Sardine Run could also be the result of a seasonal reproductive migration.

    Despite little being understood about this natural phenomenon it is definitely a once in a life time opportunity for witnessing one of natures unexplained mysteries. This spectacular marine event is sure to be enjoyed by all, be it bird watchers, marine life enthusiasts, divers and snorkelers.
  • Elusive Aldabra
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    Elusive Aldabra
    Aldabra has inspired ancient explorers, some of the world’s most famous scientists and now the modern travellers of today. The name itself is a mystery, believed to be a word of Arabic origin but with any number of theories about its actual meaning, which could be ‘green’ or ‘doorknocker’ or possibly the navigational star Aldebaran. Indeed, it seems there has always been a mythical aura attached to the name of the most far-flung and isolated of all the islands of the Seychelles archipelago.

    Aldabra, the world’s largest raised coral atoll, is the finest surviving tropical atoll ecosystem on earth. The giant tortoises on the island form by far the world’s largest population and the marine life is prolific. The last surviving flightless bird of the Indian Ocean, the Aldabra Rail, is found only here as are many other unique land birds and it is a vital breeding ground for turtles and seabirds.

    The atoll was known for centuries by Arab navigators and was first charted by the Portuguese in 1511. The French were the first recorded visitors when Captain Lazare Picault, sent to chart Seychelles in 1742, came upon Aldabra. In more recent times, Aldabra has been the centrepiece of numerous conservation initiatives on account of its unspoilt environment.

    The unique species that have evolved over time in complete isolation on the atoll have prompted some to call Aldabra the “Galapagos of the Indian Ocean”. In fact, Charles Darwin himself, whose work in the Galapagos is largely responsible for that archipelago’s esteemed status as naturalist’s paradise, recognised Aldabra’s unique natural properties, as well as being the only other place in the world aside from the Galapagos where giant tortoises could be found naturally, and recommended to British authorities that they ensure the atoll would be protected from exploitation or development. Soon after Seychelles’ independence, the government granted Aldabra protected status as a nature reserve, and in 1982 Aldabra became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today, only a small team of rangers and scientists inhabit the island, with the limited funding but wholehearted support of the Seychelles Islands Foundation, which manages the atoll for conservation and research purposes.Despite its status as one of the world’s most strictly protected natural wonders, travel to Aldabra is still – and will likely always be – incredibly difficult due to its extreme isolation.

    This is your opportunity to be one of those few who bear witness to it’s marvels. Let Hartley’s take you there; with the MV Maya’s Dugong , a 40-metre expeditionary vessel, specifically for live- aboard cruising in the Seychelles, a handful of visitors will be able to experience the atoll of Aldabra and it’s fascinating sights and treasures as part of an in-depth 7 or 11-nights eco-tourism and diving expedition. Aldabra expedition 1: 11 – 20 Dec 2015 9 Night itinerary with embarkation/disembarkation : Assumption The program includes visits to Assumption, Aldabra, Cosmoledo and Astove. Explorer Cabin : R133 000 + 3056 taxes per person sharing Commander Cabin : R136 900 + 3056 taxes per person sharing Aldabra expedition 2: 20 – 27 Dec’15 7 Night itinerary with embarkation/disembarkation : Assumption The program includes the visits to Assumption, Aldabra, Cosmoledo and Astove. Explorer Cabin : R117 000 + 3056 taxes per person sharing Commander Cabin : R120 500 + 3056 taxes per person sharing Included: Return economy class flights to Mahe and on to Assumption, return ransfers to Liveaboard, 7/9 nights cruise as per plan of itinerary, full board meals, Professional crew on board, Diving with PADI instructor part of crew (tanks, belts, weights), Snorkelling equipment., Govt taxes and VAT Excludes: Any nights required in Mahe due to internal flight connections, personal expenses, dive and travel insurance, gratuities.

    Contact us for further information : dani@hartleysgroup.com All prices have been costed according to current availabilities and rate of exchange and are subject to change accordingly at any time and without prior notice.
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